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Best of 2020 (so far)

2020’s been a hell of a year, and one that doesn’t feel like definitive statements do it justice. Still, no matter how many seismic changes have occurred during the year, the music has been a source of solace and inspiration. The fact that so many artists have had their livelihoods upended gives it a slightly sour note, especially for some that may have been working years to let these statements out into the world. Keep hitting the Bandcamp revenue shares to support artists and labels directly. If you need some suggestions there’s quite a few below. Keep in mind that ‘best’ is by no means definitive, but these are some of my favorites. We all know that Run The Jewels hits hard, but someone else is gonna tell you about it better than I ever could. Still lots to look forward to musically in the second half, but the first part of the year has been a bounty to be sure.

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RSTB Shirts to benefit The Okra Project

A little while back I printed up shirts designed by award-winning illustrator Will Sweeney in the now sold-out pink and blue design. Beginning Juneteeth, I’m opening up a pre-order for a new colorway in green and blue with all proceeds from the sales to be donated to The Okra Project. The first batch of shirts will aim to be printed in order to have them ship before the end of July with updates ASAP. The shirts will be printed by the Black-owned printing shop The Print Hub in Syracuse, NY.

Some info on The Okra Project: The Okra Project is a collective that seeks to address the global crisis faced by Black Trans people by bringing home cooked, healthy, and culturally specific meals and resources to Black Trans People wherever they can reach them. The Okra Project hopes to extend free, delicious, and nutritious meals to Black Trans people experiencing food insecurity. RSTB would like to work to keep food insecurity off the minds of the Black Trans community and help in any way we can to ensure that The Okra Project can continue to achieve their mission.

Shirts can be purchased in the RSTB shop HERE

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Damaged Bug – Bug On Yonkers

Every now and then we as a collective listening public need a nudge to work our way back towards the distorted genius of Michael Yonkers. It’s come in waves over the last couple of decades, perhaps making up for the string of unfortunate events that led to his once promising start falling apart. Though a sad story, its worth noting for the record. As a Minneapolis youth Yonkers started Michael & The Mumbles to play dances around his hometown and, as the ‘60s sometimes offered up, wound up netting himself a deal for Sire . This would be ’round about the time that similarly skewed sounds were being proffered up by The Mothers of Invention, The Godz, or West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band. Still, a pretty great windfall for a guy steadily working a wall of noise into his sound and modding out instruments in ways that wouldn’t catch on for some time. However, the luck ended there. Somehow the deal with Sire went sour and to make matters worse Yonkers broke his back working in a warehouse a few years later leading to a lifetime of pain and limited use.

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Ezra Feinberg on Jon Gibson – Two Solo Pieces

Back around the time that Raven was still ramping up there were a good string of releases by Citay. The band was out of step with the indie set at the time. While they had a sense of grandiosity that would slot them in nicely with the ’06 – ’09 class, Ezra Feinberg and Tim Green embraced a cosmic classic rock quality and genuine appreciation of sunshine ‘70s riffs that would have done well had the band been coming onto the scene right about now. Where bands like Garcia Peoples and One Eleven Heavy have been embraced, they’d rightly have Citay to thank. A decade or so later Feinberg has moved on to a more serene thrum, though still struck with a shining positivity that radiates through his playing. With contributions from John McEntire (Tortoise), Chuck Johnson, and Jonas Reinhardt, he’s swimming through the calm, embryonic gap that lies between Eno, Cluster, Ashra, and Riley. Now Ezra’s sharing a gem that’s more in line with his latter day work – the haunting minimalism of Jon Gibson. Head below to see how this one came into his life and the impact its left there.

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Jess Williamson on Living Grateful – Peace Mob

Its always when coming to something late that the feeling of being left out seems to burn like a secret shame in the cheeks. As much music as passes through the pages here, I somehow missed Jess Williamson’s first LP for Mexican Summer until about a year after it was out, but once it graced the speakers I was drawn in tight. With a second LP for the label (fourth overall) on the horizon, I’ve keep a much more perked ear in the direction of Mexican Summer these days. Her latest album is everything that the last promised — lush, honest, swooning, and surreal. Its the album of a songwriter comfortable in her discomfort and able to translate it into the kind of Laurel Canyon-dappled folk that seems instantly timeless. There seemed no way that Jess doesn’t have quite a few gems tucked away in her collection that may have proven influential, but rather than dig deep into the past she lands a band that was almost gone before they began, highlighting that feeling of seeing something great as it’s just being formed. Check out her recollection and ode to the sole LP from Living Grateful below.

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Mixtape: Young Hearts Unite

There have been a lot of genres that have given support through the lockdown juggling act over here – Sunshine Psych (done that one), jangle pop (ditto) but I locked into a specific branch of latter day power pop and it all started to coalesce into a new mixtape. The formative years of power pop are captured endlessly on comps, often with the same tracklists shuffled and reshuffled, but there’s less documentation on these past ten years to be sure. Now, while that period of time might not be known as a heyday of power pop, you’d be wrong in that assessment. There’s a lot of high-profile, excellent stuff that crosses boundaries and digs out earworms (see: Ex Hex, The Bad Moves, Martha) all great but not what I was looking for in this regard. For this mix I focused on a strain of power pop that was derived directly from those late ’70s, early ’80s types that populated the comps circulating my youth. There’s a certain loose, edge of punk, but more lovesick and soft strain here. I find that sunny days and power pop go hand in hand, so this just seems like fortuitous timing. Hope it brightens someone’s day and sends you riffling back through the stacks of the last decade.

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Romy Vager on Psychedelic Furs – Forever Now

Still plenty of essentials on the way in this strange timeline we’re on and RVG’s sophomore LP is pretty high on that list. The band’s debut was an emotionally fraught, tumultuous record that stood high with ‘80s classics from Echo and the Bunnymen, The Go-Betweens, or Siousxie Sioux. The band has only refined and expanded on that sound with their follow-up, out soon on Fire Records and Feral aims to be one of the best of the year. Naturally, that put the band’s songwriter and driving force Romy Vager high atop the list of inquiries for a Hidden Gems, and she digs further into that ‘80s influence with a spotlight on Psychedelic Furs’ mid-period gem Forever Now. While its predecessor may have gotten all the acclaim for the John Hughes tie-in, this one begs further exploration and Vager explains how it came into her life and the impact its had on her own writing.

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Traffik Island’s Zak Olsen on Public Nuisance – Gotta Survive

Keeping the wheels turning on Hidden Gems and pulling more and more psychic diggers into the fold. This week the honors fall to Zak Olsen, the Aussie indie utilitarian who crops up in quite a few RSTB faves, to be honest. From the fractured pop ooze of Hierophants to the crushing grooves of ORB, Zak has done time in The Bonniwells, The Frowning Clouds, and keeps time in his own solo work as Traffik Island. The latter’s work caught my ear a few years back with a spot-on deep-dive into loner folk, but of late the band has embraced an aesthetic of psychedelic beat driven on an engine of Library Music funk. Zak gives some background on California garage band Public Nuisance and how their Nuggets-era works came into his life. Check out Zak’s take on the band’s works below and head to Flightless for the latest Traffik Island thumper.

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Matt Lajoie on Lula Côrtes e Lailson – Satwa

Over the years Matt Lajoie has shown up here under many names — with psych folk searchers Herbcraft, alongside his partner in Ash & Herb, traversing folk under his own name, honing kosmiche waves in Starbirthed and Eastern enclaves as ML Wah. He’s back under his own name with one of the most blissful offerings in his vast catalog this year, but before that graces the waiting turntables, Matt sat down to pick out record that’s been lost to the ethers for Hidden Gems. Matt picked Lula & Lailson’s 1973 album psychedelic opus Statwa. Check out how this one came into his life and the imprint it left on him and his own writing below and nab a pre-order of the entrancing new LP Everlasting Spring.

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Jeffrey Alexander on Keith Jarrett’s – Restoration Ruin

Among the artists that dominated RSTB last year, Jeffrey Alexander was one of the most prolific, showing up with Dire Wolves (in one of their best yet), on a solo jaunt for Feeding Tube, and playing the RSTB anniversary show with a new group dubbed The Heavy Lidders. The latter featured members of Elkhorn and Bardo Pond laying waste to the blues in fine fashion. In anticipatetion for Dire Wolves’ latest album, on the way next month from Centripetal Force, Jeffrey’s contributed a pick to the Hidden Gems series. Picking out an oddity in the typically jazz-centric catalog of Keith Jarrett, he sheds some new light on an often maligned piece of the artist’s repertoire. Check out how this record came into Alexander’s life and what makes it such a treasure.

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